My son Josh gave me a really important book a few years back, The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. A few take-away thoughts from that book have changed how I live. The notion that I am imprisoned in inertia, bound up in the muck of fear of rejection and pretty much fear of everything else (bold paraphrase) made me face my own reluctance to put my writing "out there". All the years I spent writing as a volunteer, not trying to sell anything--those were easy years, exempt from the fear of rejection. After all, who doesn't want a free musical written for a high school youth group?
Those were definitely not wasted years. I loved writing for our church, I loved putting on the musicals, working with the kids, all of it. And it was important for me to be able to have that creative outlet at that time in my life. I have no regrets at all that I spent those years as a volunteer. Those years also helped me identify myself as a writer, which is where I get back to the book.
It is not what others tell us about ourselves that matters. It is our self talk. We know instinctively that no one else can see inside us and decide who we are. Unfortunately, we don't always use our best manners with ourselves. We sometimes believe the skewed version of ourselves that can develop as our self- esteem gets whittled away over time. The truth is that we needn't allow that. We don't have to believe the nay-sayers. And some of the nays come from very revered sources. We can be sidetracked by simple advice about manners. Bragging is not looked upon with admiration in our society. Yet, taken too far, we often confuse humility with poor self esteem. It is a slippery slope from learning not to "blow our own horn" to believing we have nothing of value to offer the world.
The fear of being rejected keeps many of us from laying our gifts on line. The fear of rejection can keep us from being willing to grow in our efforts, it can keep us from being willing to put out a first version of our dream. I hope with all my heart that my last book is a hundred times better than my first. But I have to be willing to put the first one out there.
The War of Art is about much more than the fear of rejection. It is about wrestling our demons, about facing the parts of ourselves that we don't like and calling them out. And the resulting freedom that comes from doing that extends far beyond writing or painting or photography or singing or dancing. The freedom that comes from facing our whole self, from not being cowed by the dark parts, is a freedom that extends to the very spirit of us.
As we know, freedom can't be forced upon us. It can't even be given to us. It can, however, be chosen. Fear is the great inhibitor. What if things will never get better? What if things will get worse? What if I lose all my stuff? What if I lose my mind? Fear is the anti-freedom. It is possible to live in bondage to things that may never happen. It is possible to live in bondage to a culture of fear. But that, too, is a choice. Freedom doesn't come from believing we are invincible or that we are better than anyone else, or even that bad things won't happen to us. It comes from believing we are here for a reason, that our lives have meaning, and from being willing to risk whatever fallout comes from living our lives full out. The only person standing between me my goals is myself. I'll not be my own nay-sayer. Not today, anyway.